Wirral Council admits “unlawful” charging policy for vulnerable people
VULNERABLE people being cared for by a social services department were systematically overcharged to the tune of more than £100,000, a report has revealed.
The so-called “special charging policy” was applied at three locations in Wirral – but nowhere else in the borough.
Fifteen people were overcharged a total of £116,000, with the sums ranging from “a few hundred pounds to over £15,000”.
The long-awaited report, which will be presented to a special council meeting next Wednesday, admits the charges to those in “supported living” accommod-ation were unlawful.
It says the “special charging policy” was applied at Bermuda Road, Curlew Way and Edgehill Road, all in Moreton, between 1997 and 2006 – but not at other establishments.
It said: “Until April, 2003, the charges levied were, on balance, probably reasonable and lawful.
“However, between April, 2003, when fairer charging should have been brought in, and February, 2006, when fairer charging was actually introduced at ‘in-house’ supporting living units in Wirral, the charges were probably unreasonable, so far as the charges exceeded what would have been levied under fairer charging.
“To that extent, the charges levied were also unlawful.”
Wirral Council’s internal audit report also acknowledges no evidence could be found that the policy had been approved by councillors until the final week of completing the document.
But minutes from a meeting in September, 1997, appeared to show the necessary approval was given.
The report said: “Wirral did not implement fairer charging for service users residing at Bermuda Road, Curlew Way and Edgehill Road until February 1, 2006.
“This delay is hard to justify in any circumstances, especially given it had a clearly adverse financial impact on vulnerable service users.”
The report also says if the charging policy was lawful up to 2003, the council lost out on income of £300,000 by not applying the charge across Wirral. It also says delays in assessing users of the service cost the council a further £156,000 between 2003 and 2006.
The case was raised by a whistleblower who has since left the authority.
A council spokesperson said: “We would like to express its appreciation to the whistleblower for raising these matters and providing evidence to the investigation.
“Since this investigation began, internal procedures for highlighting such concerns have been improved.
“Members are being asked to consider requesting the director of adult social services seeks cabinet and/or council approval to make appropriate reimburse-ments in cases where service users may have been overcharged.”